Former tánaiste and Progressive Democrats leader Mary Harney once famously pondered: “Your worst day in government is better than your best day in opposition.”
This is the choice that Independent TDs will have to make this weekend after Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil finally concluded drawn-out talks on the formation of a minority government yesterday.
Attention will now turn to Independent TDs and how many of them will join Enda Kenny’s administration and who will not and is therefore prepared to go into the badlands of opposition.
All signs are now that a Dáil vote, and possibly a lasting one, will be held next Wednesday on who will be taoiseach, by which point the numbers will be known for a minority government.
As expected, Fine Gael tied up the loose ends of their deal with Fianna Fáil in the surrounds of Trinity College Dublin yesterday, which will see the later facilitate Mr Kenny’s minority government.
Speaking afterwards, both parties insisted the provisional agreement, which needs to be nailed down in text, reflected their parties’ interests.
After overcoming the thorny issue of water charges, which saw Fine Gael climb down on a refusal to suspend bills for the foreseeable future, both sides yesterday attempted to resolve their policy differences on housing, rent supplement and mortgages.
Yesterday evening, Fianna Fáil negotiator Jim O’Callaghan had suggested his party would not “give in” on issues as talks resumed.
By late evening, talks finally broke up with both sides saying they would report to their party leaders.
A number of their differences are now set to be resolved by getting special commissions to examine the way forward. These include demands for pay increases in the public sector, concerns over high mortgage interest rates and, of course, the contentious issue of water charges. Using an external body to recommend future resolutions for these areas among others is essentially a fudge for the two parties and of course allows them some breathing space as the minority pact settles down. No doubt, the remaining opposition besides Fianna Fáil will likely take their first chance to puncture holes in the tenuous minority government deal. Any delaying tactics or postponed decision on contentious issues such as mortgages, pay or water charges would deflate opposition attacks.
Parallel to the two big parties getting the ink ready to sign their deal, Independents yesterday stood on the sideline sizing up their options and, at the same time, talking up their concerns.
Independent Alliance putative leader Shane Ross admitted his group was “not looking to destroy” any pact agreed.
A big one for some of the rural deputies is the lack of broadband and now the expected delay of the national broadband plan by six months to June 2017. After a briefing with Department of Communications officials, members of the Independent Alliance still seemed concerned. This will be an important bargaining chip in any support deal cobbled together with Mr Kenny’s negotiators.
Equally, the lack of housing and a coherent plan for construction are a concern among some, including the Alliance’s Galway TD Sean Canney, who is being tipped as being in line for a ministry.
A compact deal on mortgages and how to reduce rates, possibly through a commission, is also being sought by the alliance.
Elsewhere, other rural TDs were more optimistic about signing up to the minority government. Rural Alliance TD Denis Naughten said he did not envisage much difficulty in cutting a deal.
Possibly though, Independents may have the final say on this protracted deal which has dragged out since voters went to the polls nine weeks ago. It will be up to them whether they stay on the opposition benches and promote their needs and those of their constituents or whether those TDs, some just newly elected, take a risk and enter government.
A cohort of prizes await them, including at least three senior minister positions and possibly the same again in junior posts. But they will take very seriously the decision to go in with Mr Kenny and Fine Gael, whom many of them would have campaigned against during the last general election.
In the meantime, ahead of an expected Dáil vote for Taoiseach next week, the parliamentary parties of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will have to approve the minority government deal. This will likely take place on Tuesday, ahead of an expected vote for Taoiseach on Wednesday.
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